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Shepard Fairey to face criminal investigation in Associated Press case

January 26, 2010 |  5:48 pm


A judge in New York revealed today that artist Shepard Fairey is facing a criminal investigation in connection with his admitted misconduct in the ongoing legal case with the Associated Press, according to reports.

Alvin K. Hellerstein, a federal district judge, reportedly made the revelation today as part of a hearing where lawyers for Fairey and the AP were present.

A spokesman for the AP said in a statement issued this evening that the news organization has received a grand jury subpoena related to Fairey's misconduct during the case.

A lawyer representing Fairey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In October, the L.A. artist admitted that he knowingly submitted false images and deleted others during the case in an attempt to conceal the fact that the AP had correctly identified the photo that Fairey had used as a reference for his "Hope" poster of then-Sen. Barack Obama.

In February, the AP claimed that Fairey violated copyright laws when he used one of its images as the basis for the poster.  In response, the artist filed a lawsuit against the AP, claiming that he was protected under fair use. 

At the time, Fairey claimed that he used a different photo as the inspiration for his poster. He has since admitted that the AP is correct about which photo he used.

Following today's hearing, the AP published a report stating that the judge revealed the grand jury probe in a handwritten note denying a request by a Fairey attorney that a hearing relating to a copyright lawsuit be closed.

-- David Ng


Shepard Fairey says honesty is essential to his art despite his 'slip' over a disputed Obama poster

Photo: Shepard Fairey. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (40)

serves him right

Shepard Fairey has been copying art and ripping off other artists for a long time about time he taught a lesson. Just wish artists in general would realize that copying is not being creative, and appropriating is still copying some elses hard work.

maybe we should change his obama sticker and change HOPE to LIAR. that'd be a great drive down sunset blvd.

Shepard Fairey is NOT an Artist. He appears to be an obnoxious street punk who does not have talent. All he has done with this is to steal and lie. It is this type of arrogance that causes resentment of the productive members of our society over funding for the Arts. STEALING and PROFITING from others work is a crime. I am sure that Mr Fairey will enjoy a very nice time in prison! I hope he is barred forever from all public funding sources in any capacity.

Honestly though, he took that photograph, sure one that someone else took, and he made it into an icon for the Obama campaign that the original photo could/would never have been.

Isn't that something different? Doesn't that merit status as it's own piece of work? Sure, it's derivative, but it was used in a much different context than the original work was.

AP can't really claim that they would have profited in this way (posters/stickers/buttons/etc..) from that photo. So he didn't really cost AP any profit, which is generally the crime that these copyright laws seek to prevent.

It is graphic design, not creative or even fine art. He did a good job, did what was called for, got paid, end of discussion. Fine on a design site or museum, which would be weird, as design is about selling a product. He helped sell Obama, good job.

So why are we still talking about him outside of plaigarism, which is what he did. He relied on an image for impact, he gussied it up. Whether enough to make the impact more of him than the original is up to the courts. But as an artist, not even in the discussion.

So is the government gonna kick down the doors of our public schools' art classrooms when children use a photo or a picture in a magazine for inspiration?

Many of you are missing the point.

The AP wouldn't have made a dime off of this photo without Fairey making it his own. Yes, his own. He used his talent to paint it and turn it into a cultural icon. Even the photographer praised Fairey's work (and had the photo on sale in a NYC art gallery for $1200 bucks). He screwed up, but it has nothing to do with the issue of fair use, regardless of the size of the original photo.

Calling him a "street punk" is real mature. Just because he doen't wear a button-down oxford shirt and sit in a cubicle all day. Give me a break. The counterculture is the only thing keeping America interesting. If you don't see the art in his work (and I'm not talking about the HOPE poster), then you must be blind, or so much of graying conformist that you simply can't handle it.

The skaters, the hip-hop kids, the graff artists... They are a piece of the pie that makes America what it is. And regardless of the verdict, they won't stop doing what defines them.

As a photographer, I'm feed up with anyone's images being stolen, altered then re-introduced as original art. The thief stands to reap profit and recognition and the creator of the key element of the altered piece get nothing. You can buy, oh Lord, did I say "BUY" any of a million and one images for sell at online stock agencies for as low as a few bucks, then do as you will with it. But, I know the idea of paying others for their goods or servers don't fit the whole getto, thug, graff vandal artist shop lifting spray paint down your droopy draws image.

And come on, do you truly consider a head shot of a politician run though a couple basic photoshop filters to resemble mid 20th century propaganda artwork anyway?

So David, because Obama is a public figure, a photographer gets to make money off Obama's image and doesn't have to pay Obama anything. Then the photographer get's to throw a fit when Fairey uses fair use to do the same thing to the photographer. It seems a bit hypocritical.

hey David, I believe his posters are actually silk screens. if you saw the real thing, you'd see many layers of colors and patterns making up that image. it was definitely not done in photoshop.

This case is going to court because Fairey STOLE a copyrighted image. That's illegal no matter HOW you try to rationalize it. You have to pay for the right to use that photo, and it doesn't matter if the person who created it makes money off it or not. You're probably the same people who think it's OK to illegally download music, because the "big, evil" recording industry has already made enough money. How pathetic.

Since he helped get the loser elected, I hope he gets the chair.

Why are most of you attacking Shepard Fairey now--jealous or just don't get his art, it sounds like. He did something really hot and got famous for it. He deserved the attentions, his work is very exciting and he's right on top of all the hot topics. He's been on the streets doing lots of controversial street art for years--then got a big break with the Obama art. I think the only thing he did wrong was toy with the courts and the AP, and try to cover-up the truth about using that photo, and now it seems he shall be given a lesson about being transparent, especially when Big Brother comes a knockin' at the door. I still hope he somehow gets himself out of hot water--perhaps being humble and apologetic would help, though he probably went too far with the big guys....

You have to read the entire article. There were civil cases pending between AP and the 'artist' that probably could have been resolved out of court. The AP doesn't want to bust the guy down - though he did need his hand slapped for stealing the guys image (that he probably could have negotiated to purchase for a reasonable price). The issue now is he then compounded the issue by obstructing justice and turning this in a criminal case. He knew he was wrong, so he deleted images, submitted wrong images, lied, etc to try and avoid trouble (guess he knew that the 'Fair Use' case wasn't going to hold) and now he has become a CRIMINAL - not because of his artwork - but because he is an idiot and didn't just hire a lawyer and let them work it out.

Shouldn't the photographer owe Obama something then? I see a lot of paparazzi make killer money off of fame and never pay the subject a dime. Where is the fair? If you take a pic of someone or their property and owe them nothing, someone ought to be able to take a pic of your pic.

Didn't Andy Warhol do the same thing with just about every work he is famous for?

I'm not at all surprised by the comments defending this talentless slug. Most hip-hoppers rip off real music, written by real musicians, so of course most street "artists" see no problem doing the same thing.

@David, I doubt that shepard is : getto, thug, graff vandal artist shop lifting spray paint down your droopy draws, and your comments are so stereotypical! I'm sure if the world didn't know he was a white guy you would also classify him as mexican too, so lame.

Since your a photographer you must be: full of your self, act like you stuff don't stink and think the images you shoot are worth more than they really are, right?

I didn't think so, treat creatives with respect because were all family, I'm guessing you've never taken a photo of a subject that someone else has.

"Bad artists copy. Good artists steal." - Pablo Picasso

The problem with copying is that it removes understanding. What works for others doesn't mean it will work for you. Understanding what works is key.

As Picasso said, good artists steal. Every shape, style and colour came from something else, a flower, a building, a website or an animal. The list is endless.

I was buying his Fair Use argument. He obviously substantially altered the image and released it as a new work with a new meaning. But by doing this he just reveals his own guilty mind. Even *he* does not believe he had clear title to the base image he took.

Sorry Shepard. You should have stuck to your first story and lived or died by it. Now you're in twice the trouble you were before.

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